A man at an event in Trafalgar Square, London, UK, holding up a sign supporting freedom of speech


The concept and the term are ancient; Athens’ democratic ideology of free speech is thought to have emerged in the 5th or 6th century BCE. The first occurrence of the phrase freedom of speech recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1567, and it also appears in the English Bill of Rights, among other works: see the quotations.



freedom of speech ‎(uncountable)

  1. The right of citizens to speak, or otherwise communicate, without fear of harm or prosecution.
    • 1567, Thomas Stapleton, A Counterblast to M. Hornes Vayne Blaste against M. Fekenham: Wherein is Set Forthe: A Ful Reply to M. Hornes Answer, and to Euery Part therof Made, against the Declaration of my L. Abbat of Westminster, M. Fekenham, Touching, the Othe of the Supremacy. By Perusing vvhereof shall Appeare, besides the Holy Scriptures, as it vvere a Chronicle of the Continual Practise of Christes Churche in Al Ages and Countries, fro[m] the Time of Constantin the Great, vntil our Daies: Prouing the Popes and Bishops Supremacy in Ecclesiastical Causes: And Disprouing the Princes Supremacy in the Same Causes, Leuven: Apud Ioannem Foulerum, OCLC 606537205, book III, chapter xxi, folio 308 (verso):
      S. Iohn the Baptiste, who died for the lyke liberty and fredome of speache, as S. Quillian, and S. Lamberte did.
    • 1689 December 16, Bill of Rights (1688 chapter 2, 1 William and Mary, Session 2)[1],, The National Archives:
      That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament.
    • 1720 February 4, John Trenchard; Thomas Gordon, “Of Freedom of Speech, that the Same is Inseparable from Publick Liberty” [letter no. 15], in Collection of Cato's Political Letters in the London Journal [...], London: Printed for J. Roberts, OCLC 42689852; republished in A[bel] Boyer, editor, The Political State of Great Britain, volume XXI, London: Printed for the author, February 1721, OCLC 181370424, page 147:
      All Miniſters, therefore, who were Oppreſſors, or intended to be Oppreſſors, have been loud in their Complaints againſt Freedom of Speech, and the Licence of the Preſs; and always reſtrained, or endeavored to reſtrain both, in conſequence of this, they have browbeaten Writers, and puniſhed them violently, and againſt Law, and burnt their Works; by all which, they ſhewed how much Truth alarmed them, and how much they were at Enmity with Truth.
    • 1940 April 22, Associate Justice Frank Murphy (Supreme Court of the United States), Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, page 95:
      The freedom of speech and of the press which are secured by the First Amendment against abridgment by the United States are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which are secured to all persons by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgment by a state. The safeguarding of these rights to the ends that men may speak as they think on matters vital to them and that falsehoods may be exposed through the processes of education and discussion is essential to free government. Those who won our independence had confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning and communication of ideas to discover and spread political and economic truth. [] Abridgment of freedom of speech and of the press, however, impairs those opportunities for public education that are essential to effective exercise of the power of correcting error through the processes of popular government.
    • 1969 February 24, Associate Justice Abe Fortas (Supreme Court of the United States), Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, page 506:
      First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.
    • 1994, Mike Godwin, “Pamphleteering in the Electronic Era: Hacking out a Digitized Proclamation of Rights”, in U.S. News & World Report, volume 116, Washington, D.C.: U.S. News & World Report, Inc., ISSN 0041-5537, OCLC 424029014, page 55; quoted in David L. Green, editor, i-Quote: Brilliance and Banter from the Internet Age, Guildford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59921-150-3, page 113:
      Cyberspace may give freedom of speech more muscle than the First Amendment does. It may already have become literally impossible for a government to shut people up.
    • 1997, Wendy M. Grossman, Net.wars, New York, N.Y.: New York University Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-3103-1, page 90:
      One question that remains is at what point an individual Net poster has the right to assume prerogatives that have traditionally been only the province of journalists and news-gathering organizations. When the Pentagon Papers landed on the doorstep of The New York Times, the newspaper was able to publish under the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech, and to make a strong argument in court that publication was in the public interest. [] [T]he amplification inherent in the combination of the Net's high-speed communications and the size of the available population has greatly changed the balance of power.
    • 2003, Mike Godwin, “A New Frontier for Free Speech and Society”, in Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age, rev. and updated edition, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-57168-5, page 2:
      The term free speech, which appears in this book's subtitle as well as in its text, is used more or less interchangeably with freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression to refer to all of the expressive rights guaranteed by the forty-five words of the First Amendment, as interpreted by the U.S. courts.
  2. Used other than as an idiom: see freedom,‎ speech.

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